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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor and a philosopher. The Meditations, as they are commonly referred too, were his personal journal. He likely wrote them between 161 and 180 AD, and probably did not plan to publish them. Thus, they provide a sincere view into the thoughts and struggles of a practicing stoic.

After the first chapter, which is a list of influential people in Marcus’ life, The Meditations are unstructured. They are also somewhat repetitive, as may be expected in a journal (when I review mine, I find it repetitive too).

I have attempted to identify and categorize Marcus’ core beliefs. This endeavor may be misguided, since his views may have shifted over time and he likely wasn’t attempting to be systematic.

I categorize his beliefs into three domains: Epistemology, or how do we know what we know, ethics, or how should we act, and metaphysics, what is the nature of reality. His journal, naturally, focuses on ethics, but on occassion he explains why he should act a certain way, and in so doing he tells us how he viewed reality. He also occassionally expresses doubts, and in so doing touches on why he believes what he does.

After each belief in parenthesis is listed the number of sections relating to this belief. Click on the number to filter out all unrelated sections. Many sections are connected to multiple beliefs. You can also show all the sections which I was unable to relate to one of my beliefs.

All quotes are from a modernized version of George Long’s translation.

Epistemological Beliefs

  1. Be open minded (4).
  2. The gods exist, although there are some doubts (2).
  3. It is unclear whether the universe is directed by reason or random chance (10).

Metaphysical Beliefs

  1. The entire material universe is one being directed by reason, or the Logos  (3).
  2. We are all part of Nature, being formed out of it, and coalescing with it as it perpetually changes  (11).
  3. The Logos is purely good and everything that happens is good (4).
  4. The Logos has a plan and a purpose (1).
  5. Anything that is good for the Whole is good for its parts (including us), regardless of how bad they may seem (1).
  6. The gods exist and are higher forms of beings made purely of soul (1).
  7. We consist of three parts: the body, the soul, and reason (2).
  8. There is a hierarchy of beings too, and lower beings serve higher beings (8).
  9. Soul is a sort of substance—a sort of rarified fire (8).
  10. Matter can’t touch the soul, but soul directs matter (3).
  11. Death is necessary in order to keep the Universe young and renewed (3).
  12. Nothing is ever new, the universe has existed forever (9).
  13. The universe has periodic “conflagrations” (2).
  14. Animals contribute to the order of the universe (1).

Ethical Beliefs

  1. We should act in accordance with nature (2).
  2. Nothing outside of your control can be evil (23).
  3. In general, anything that appears evil, is not, for the Whole would not do anything evil (2).
  4. Wicked actions only harm the perpetrator (1).
  5. Act for the benefit of the group—for other men—for we are born for one another (7).
  6. Death shouldn’t be feared since life isn’t worth living (2).
  7. It is our duty to try and persuade others to act righteously (7).
  8. The body and its desires should be despised, or at least treated as mere distractions (7).
  9. Life is short, then we will be forgotten, so act accordingly (12).
  10. Don’t worry about what other people think, unless necessary for the common good. (1).
  11. Don’t worry about what is outside your control. (1).
  12. We should always act with a purpose—don’t act at random (6).
  13. It is foolish to think a bad person won’t be bad (3).
  14. Focus on the true nature, the position within the whole and connection to the whole, the substance, and the cause (7).
  15. Enjoy the present (1).
  16. Enjoy the small things (1).

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